Knopf, $26.95, 313 pages, ISBN 978-0-525-52013-9
Every person in America today who pays attention to the news and current events is aware that we’re dealing with an unprecedented drug and opioid crisis. The numbers are staggering . . . and the statistics sobering . . . there were more than 70,000 drug overdose deaths in the U.S. during the year 2017, according to the latest available figures from the CDC, or Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, Georgia. Numbers like those are not only heartbreaking, they’re absolute proof that the so-called War on Drugs, now fifty-plus years old, is an utter failure. Some are in favor of tougher laws and more enforcement with harsher penalties. Still others favor the legalization and decriminalizing of all illicit substances, including the synthetic ones like spice and Fentanyl . . . known causes of havoc and death.
That’s one side of the story. But like all stories, there’s another side to it, told in an unapologetic, matter-of-fact and gut wrenching way by a young former heroin addict and talented writer who’s currently in prison for aggravated armed robbery.
Cherry, Nico Walker, is the tale of a confused young man who sets off to college in Cleveland, Ohio, where he meets Emily, and they kinda, sorta, fall in love while fooling around on the periphery of the drug scene . . . much like a lot of young, dumb and confused kids do. But, the drugs and alcohol soon become overwhelming. Emily decides to transfer to a college in Canada, while the unnamed protagonist and narrator flunks out. Adrift and clueless, he joins the Army and trains as a medic, then gets sent to Iraq, where for him, there’s no end of drugs, porno movies and death. He comes home to Cleveland with a raging case of PTSD, just in time to reconnect with Emily and meet the opioid pandemic head-on. Before long, they’re shooting heroin every day and he’s robbing banks to get the money to support their combined habit.
Told in visceral, raw and graphic language, this novel is not for the faint of heart, nor those easily offended by violence and coarse language. But for those who’ve shed their rose-colored glasses and want to know more of the real world, the opioid disaster and at the same time gain a better understanding of the society we live in today, you need to read this book. It’s honest and tough, and it comes straight from Nico Walker’s heart, holding nothing back, and making no excuses. It’s a fascinating, sobering and heartbreaking testimonial that should be required reading for every member of Congress, the entire Department of Justice, as well as every Judge and Administrator in the country. Then maybe they’d do something about it . . .